How Guerrilla Gardening Can Save America's Food Deserts

Ron Finley's L.A. Green Grounds brings fresh fruit and vegetables to urban neighborhoods dominated by fast food, liquor stores and empty lots

"I am bringing healthy food to the community and showing people how to grow it and cook it," says Ron Finley. (Rickett & Sones)

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I'm a human being. That's my background! I need to eat healthy food. If it's not there, you put it there, you build it. It was an inconvenience for me to get healthy food, so what better way to make it convenient than to grow it myself? In that, there is a multitude of learning possibilities, from meditation to learning systems to understanding that you can't just go from A to M. There's a system you have to follow, and gardening teaches that. Gardening is a metaphor for everything that happens in life. We're all gardeners. Some of us just forgot about it. It was the first job ever.

Why was the City of Los Angeles initially opposed to the sidewalk gardens?

Because of archaic laws. It happened because the system was not able to adapt fast enough to the current situations. But how long have these neighborhoods gone without triage? The neighborhood must do triage on itself. You don't wait for the saviors to come in. You are the guys and gals on the white horse. You've got to fix it yourself.

Have they come around?

The law in L.A. has been amended, due in large part to some people who championed what I'm doing, and the city seeing that this needs to happen. The ordinance is basically done; they're just fine-tuning what edibles you can plant.

Do the neighbors respect the sidewalk gardens? I would worry about people stealing food or trashing them.

The bottom line is that if it's on the street, like if you leave something on the curb, you are basically giving it away. So that's what happens. But you can't eat all the food you grow. It's impossible. You'd be eating all day and all night.

As far as people respecting them, most do. You have some haters, but haters make you famous. That's why you're talking to me.

Usually when people see one of my gardens, it engages them. They say that they don't see hummingbirds in their neighborhood, that they don't see butterflies. If you build it, they will come. It turns out to be a sanctuary.

I'd imagine some folks don't even recognize vegetables, because we are so removed from food farming.


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